We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email: Suzanne.email@example.com
Anonymous Art Producer: I nominate David Tsay
How many years have you been in business?
About 15 years now.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
Photography school taught. I prefer structure and discipline when I am learning things. “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively”. So true.
Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
A lot of my influences were from writers and artists: Jean Genet’s work is so dreamy and atmospheric, Robert Longo’s juxtaposition of imagery, Eric Fischl’s paintings of odd lifestyle moments with amazing light and composition, and Jack Stauffaucher’s graphic experimental letterpress work. I wanted to be a writer but suck at it so badly. I was lucky to find photography as a way for me to tell stories.
How do you find your inspiration to be so fresh, push the envelope, stay true to yourself so that creative folks are noticing you and hiring you?
Staying true to yourself is important, but also be aware of what’s going on and don’t get stuck recycling your own best shots. Trust your instinct so you’ll always find your sweet spot in any difficult situation. I also have a great, honest, support system from my agency. They really keep me grounded and keep me focused.
It’s important to balance catalog and adverting work with editorial shoots and tests. Getting editorial assignments is a good reminder that what you are doing is current.
Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
I’m sure most creative people in any field feels that way. But I work well with rules. It’s like, if you tell me how big my sandbox is and how much sand I get and in what colors, it becomes a fun challenge to see what crazy amazing sand castles I can make out of it. The challenges and limitations make it like a game.
What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
I was doing email promos but didn’t get the results I wanted. So just recently I went old-school and sent out a snail-mail promo. I am getting really great, positive feedback (http://pdnpromoswekept.tumblr.com/post/42025738335/this-promo-i-received-from-photographer-david-tsay).
I have a portfolio website, and I just started some social media things too–a Tumblr page where I blog, Instagram, a Twitter account. I used to be shy about involving my business in social media, but now I really enjoy it.
What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
Don’t do it. I did that and it didn’t work. At some point years ago I started shooting and showing work in response to jobs that I didn’t get–therefore showing work that I thought buyers wanted to see. It really ended up hurting me and setting me back. When you are not inspired with your own work, it shows. I always say to shoot what you love and are passionate about, and other people will love it too. It sounds so corny and naive, but it’s so true.
Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
I started shooting jobs while still in school. After I graduated, I really wasn’t shooting personal work and just focused on jobs. But about a year into my relationship with my current agency, Kate told me she really needed to see personal work from me to know what I’m passionate about and what jobs to go after for me. I used to think testing is for photographers that weren’t working, but I’ve since learned that you need to do those to stay creatively fit–like how an athlete would in between games.
How often are you shooting new work?
For personal projects? I go thru phases… Having said what I said above, some months I’m more inspired/motivated than others. But for me, it doesn’t have to be a shoot. I’ll make my collages or artwork and it might spark an inspiration for a shoot.
My family moved to the U.S. when I was 9 years old and raised me in the suburbs of Pasadena, California. I first picked up a camera as an Psychology undergrad at UCSB and then transferred and studied photography at Art Center in Pasadena. I am now based in Los Angeles and represented by Kate Ryan Inc.
David Tsay: www.davidtsay.com
Kate Ryan Represents: www.kateryaninc.com/ 212-929-5399
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information. Follow her@SuzanneSease.